By Gene Hall
Last Saturday, I crossed an item off my “bucket list.” I attended the Grand Ole Opry. Seeing it in the current Opry House would have been cool, but, even better, I saw the show during the winter run in the old Ryman Auditorium, once called “the high church of country music.”
The Opry is special and can be appreciated by those who enjoy any musical taste. It is a reflection of where we’ve been as a nation and perhaps where we’re going. It’s indelibly woven into the American fabric.
The 50,000-watt radio blowtorch of WSM-Nashville has blasted it across the nation for 87 years. A lot of folks don’t realize the Opry was, and is, a radio show. The Internet and satellite radio are part of the worldwide audience.
I also see the Opry as a metaphor for agriculture, and to be sure, for much of its history it played to a huge rural audience. For those under the signal of WSM, it was a respite, a high point in the week. The performers on stage at the Ryman plowed the fertile ground of imagination, hope, pain and life. The audience waited for this more enthusiastically than anyone ever waited for Dancing with the Stars. Then they returned to the fields the next day to plow for real and hum the music of the night before.
When the Opry went on the air in 1925, part of the audience was a young East Texas farmer who could get it on the banks of the Sabine River when it was a little cloudy. On those days, the radio waves would get some “surface to air bounce” and the Opry would sometimes roll in loud and clear. It became easier when NBC Radio began broadcasting the show in the late 1930s. This was my grandfather, a fan until he died at the age of 101.
I’ve been to a few concerts in recent years. Most of them are about smoke, video screens, flame effects, fog machines and most of all, ear-splitting volume.
Not the Grand Ole Opry. Over the objections of some of its pioneers and fans, drums and electrical instruments were added over the years as country music evolved. But the product is still pure, sweet and moving. Art in the form of sound does not have to fracture your eardrums. The careful application of musical improvement worked.
Mostly, the Opry is about talented people, trained and ready, using just the right tools—not more than needed and certainly no less.
That’s similar to what American farmers and ranchers do every day. By combining the heritage of the old with the tools of the present, our food production system keeps humming right along. Just like the Grand Ole Opry.